The UNP and the Stiftungs


On April 12, 2011, the daily Lankadeepa carried a news item which stated that UNP general secretary Tissa Attanayake had issued a statement to that newspaper alleging that a certain German NGO had been providing money to the Sajith Premadasa faction to oust Ranil Wickremesinghe and that the UNP was preparing a paper to be presented to the diplomatic community in Colombo about this German NGO. If not for the intervening Sinhala and Tamil New Year and the Ban Ki-moon panel report which eclipsed everything else, this article in the Lankadeepa would have set off a major controversy in the country.

The very next day, on April 13, Sajith Premadasa responded with a statement to the Lankadeepa saying that he had phoned Tissa Attanayake who was overseas at the time and asked him whether he had made a statement to the effect that a German NGO was spending large sums of money for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ouster from the UNP leadership. Attanayake had denied that he ever made any such statement to anybody and he had said that the moment he returns to Sri Lanka he will be getting any such report corrected. Having made public Attanayake’s response to his query, Sajith then went on to make the counter-accusation that certain "traitorous pro-Tiger elements" in the UNP were conspiring against him by planting articles in the newspapers.

Even though the name was not mentioned in the Lankadeepa article, the German NGO referred to in this controversy is the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany. Then, just after the New Year, Buddhika Pathirana, the Matara district MP a close supporter of Sajith Premadasa was given a Fredrich Ebert Stiftung scholarship to Germany and this seemed to support the accusations being made by the Ranil Wickremesinghe faction that the Sajith faction was receiving backing from this German NGO.  Uninvolved third parties also got dragged into the controversy with a report appearing on a website called Lanka News Web alleging that it was Rajiva Wijesinha who had obtained a Ebert Stiftung scholarship for Buddhika Pathirana. Naturally, poor Rajiva was scandalized.  He’s a UPFA politician and should if at all, be obtaining scholarships for members of his own party and not for opponents.    

A letter was written by Wijesinha to the Freirich Ebert Stiftung on the 23rd April  stating among other things, the following:

* He had never had any contact ever, with the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung and he had not participated in any of their programs except on one occasion recently when his sister was one of the speakers.

* Lanka News Web which had published the story about him having obtained a scholarship for Buddhika had been started by associates of  Mangala Samaraweera and this story is probably a part of the ongoing leadership struggle in that party.

* Pathirana had a leading role in the Liberal Youth Leagues which were funded by the Friedrich Neumann Stiftung (as against the Ebert Stiftung) through the Institute for Democracy and Leadership headed by Ravi Karunanayake.

After having explained the ups and downs of the three cornered relationship between the UNP, the Neumann stiftung and the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka of which Rajiva was a leading light, he urges the Ebert Stiftung to confirm to Lanka News Web that he (Rajiva) has had nothing to do with the Ebert Stiftung.

One of the things that Rajiva’s letter makes clear is that it is Ravi Karunanayake who has been getting money from a German NGO and not Sajith Premadasa – which turns the entire controversy on its head because everything started off with an accusation from the Wickremesinghe faction to the effect that the Sajith Premadasa faction was getting money from  a German NGO to oust RW from the leadership. Now with Rajiva’s letter, one may assume that it’s the turn of the Sajith Premadasa camp to say that Ravi Karunanayake and the Wickremesinghe faction has been getting money from a German NGO to oppose his leadership bid!

Sagarika Delgoda, the Resident Representative of the Neumann Stiftung, confirmed to this writer that her organization does fund the Institute for Democracy and Leadership headed by Ravi Karunanayake. What she said was that  Mr Lalith Athulathmudali had wanted to start a political academy but the project could not be implemented while he was alive and after his death Karunanayake had revived the idea and they had commenced work.  She added that the Institute for Democracy and Leadership despite its name was not an institutionalized set up with offices and buildings but that it was only a collection of individuals through whom programs were implemented.

In fact Buddhika Pathirana himself had been sent to Germany for the first time by this Neumann Stiftung and he had been the President of the Liberal Youth Leagues functioning under the Institute for Democracy and Leadership and the Neumann Stiftung had funded some of his programmes in the Matara district as well. So who is funding whom for what has become rather confused.  To make things a bit clearer, it is necessary to understand the way these German foundations work.

Germany has three ‘Stiftungs’ affiliated to political parties. The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung affiliated to the Christian Democratic Party is the closest in ideological terms to the UNP. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung affiliated to the Social Democratic Party of Germany should see the SLFP as their natural partner in Sri Lanka at least in theory.  The Friedrich Neumann Stiftung is affiliated to the Liberal Party of Germany and should in theory be supporting the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka and Rajiva’s complaint is that it is not doing so and supporting the UNP instead.  These three German Stiftungs promote the ideology of the political parties they are affiliated to.

From around 1994, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung was very active in Sri Lanka supporting the UNP and funding the Ranjan Wijeratne Academy for Political Education.  This was a useful initiative which helped politically educate an entire generation of UNPers at a time when the party had faced an unprecedented defeat. From its inception right up to the end of 2001, it was the present writer who always delivered the lecture on political parties and political ideology at programmes of the Ranjan Wijeratne Academy.  The book ‘Kolapata Samajaya’ (published in 1997) which the present writer likes to think was the ultimate statement of conservative ideology ever made in this country, was written entirely as a result of the lectures delivered at the Ranjan Wijeratne Academy by the present writer. Both S.B.Dissanayake and Mangala Samaraweera, the principal opponents of the UNP at that time after Chandrika Kumaratunga, have both later told the present writer how taken up they were with Kolapata Samajaya even though they were on the other side of the political divide. It was also in fact the only book ever written in Sri Lanka to hit the headlines of a national newspaper and to feature several times on the front pages. (It has also to be said here that the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung had absolutely nothing to do with either the writing or the publication of Kolapata Samajaya)

The point that we were trying to make is that there is nothing wrong in any political party in Sri Lanka being funded by a fraternal political party in any other democratic country.  In the good old days, under J.R.Jayewardene, and to some extent even under Premadasa and D.B.Wijetunga, the UNP used to be the very archetype of a conservative party and JRJ was the same type of leader as Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher.  It was during D.B.Wijetunga’s time that the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung began funding the Ranjan Wijeratne Academy for Political Education.  They later wound up operations here when Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister.  Of course from the 1990s onwards, the age of ideology passed and the conservative ideology of the free market and democracy became the norm with even social democratic parties adopting key elements of the conservative outlook.  In the absence of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation perhaps the Neumann Foundation is the natural ally of the UNP since the Liberal Party is not that strong in Sri Lanka.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung which should be working with the SLFP, seems to be trying to make inroads into the UNP.  Today in fact, Social Democratic parties throughout the democratic world should see the SLFP as a trail blazer among the fraternity.  In the 1990s, there was a revolution within all Social Democratic parties the world over with young forward looking leaders like Tony Blair in Britain and Bill Clinton in the USA shaking up their cobweb ridden parties and changing the whole way that social democrats were looked at. Chandrika Kumaratunga however was not able to effect that revolution in the SLFP. Its Mahinda Rajapaksa who has done that. He has turned the social democratic economic growth rate of the SLFP into something that surpasses that of the old UNP and he has shown himself capable of making J.R,Jayewardene, Ranjan Wijeratne and Dick Cheney type decisions and implementing them far better than the former. Now he in fact is the standard bearer of ‘conservatism in practice’ and the ‘conservative attitude’ in this country even though he himself may be scandalized at such a label and hotly reaffirm his faith in the SLFP’s social democratic ideals.

While the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung should really be supporting the SLFP, the bad mouthing of the Rajapaksa regime by the former German Ambassador Juergen Weerth was probably such that they cannot have anything to do with the SLFP even if they want to. A pity because the SLFP today is a political entity that the global social democratic fraternity should be proud of, and seek to emulate – cooked up war crimes allegations notwithstanding. Be that as it may, the reason for the present discussion is the accusation that the Freidrich Ebert Stiftung has been funding the Sajith Premadasa faction and supporting their bid to get rid of RW.  From what we learn, none of Sajith’s programmes have been funded by the Ebert Stiftung. However he had been instrumental recently in bringing UNP parliamentarians to a seminar organized by the Ebert Stiftung for UNP, TNA and UPFA parliamentarians. 

This is not surprising because Sajith openly declares himself to be a social democrat and repudiates the neo-liberal policies of the present leadership. He has said so in interviews with the present writer as well.  In fact he insists that if the UNP is to come into power again it has to renounce neo-liberalism as a political ideology.  If the Ebert Stiftung has seen an opportunity to promote social democracy in what was earlier a conservative party, well, who is to say that they can’t do that? The Ranil Wickremesinghe faction has this abominable habit of bullying foreigners who don’t seem to be toeing their line.  They carried out a demonstration against the HSBC bank because the bank gave the government a loan, and even threatened that they will not allow it to be paid back. Then they bad mouthed Alok Prasad, the Indian High Commissioner because he was not seen to be exerting enough pressure on the government to halt the war. Then they pitched into the present German Ambassador Jens Ploetner because some German politicians came to Sri Lanka and praised the government for their efforts at resettlement in the north. The UNP wants the foreigners to pull their chestnuts out of the fire, and woe betide them if they don’t!

The Article 16.2 party

In the UNP last week, everything was working in halves. The high powered advisory committee was missing one ex officio member - the national organizer. The half constituted advisory committee comprising of RW, Karu J, Tissa A, Jayawickrema Perera and Sajith Premadasa met under the provisions of article 16.2 which says that decisions made by a decision making  body of the party would be valid not withstanding any deficiencies in the appointment of members to that body. The main business at hand was the filling of vacant posts in the party.  RW announced at the advisory committee that his kinsman Ruwan Wijewardene was going to be the president of the UNP youth league and Shanthini Kongahage the head of the women’s movement.

Sajith had no objection to Wijewardene’s appointment but he had suggested that Talatha Atukorale should head the women’s movement.  The excuse trotted out by RW to keep Talatha out, was that provincial councilors too had to be given an opportunity to hold key positions in the party. When it came to appointing members to the working committee from the various districts, RW suggested Mohan Lal Grero from the Colombo district.  Sajith had wanted Rosy Senanayake appointed but RW insisted on appointing Grero.  Sajith suggested Buddhika Pathirana from the Matara district but RW wanted Mangala Samaraweeera given that slot.  In the Matale district, it was decided to get the two Aluvihare’s to decide on one of their number for the slot. The appointment to the Puttalam district was suspended for the time being until Ranga Bandara got over the committee of inquiry appointed against him for bad mouthing Tissa Attanayake. A small victory for Sajith was the appointment of Talatha Atukorale to the working committee to represent the Ratnapura district and Ranjith Madduma Bandara to represent the Moneragala dictrict. In the latter case, even RW had no choice because the UNP has only one parliamentarian in the Moneragala district.     

The working committee meeting was held immediately after the advisory committee and RW repeated his suggestions to the working committee and once again Sajith registered his protest to no avail. What met that day was a half constituted working committee completely dominated by RW’s appointees. Less than half of the 92 member working committee had been appointed and the largest body of appointees present were those from the 20 appointed by the party leader at his sole discretion. Like the advisory committee before it, the working committee was also meeting under the provisions of Article 16.2 mentioned above.

It was at the working committee that RW sprung a surprise – he wanted Ravi Karunanayake appointed the national organizer of the party.  Sajith protested vehemently pointing out among other things that Ravi K was present at the working committee without having any status to be there. Even if he was appointed national organizer, he should have attended the working committee from the next meeting and should not be at the present meeting because he is not a member of that body. Readers should note that even this is covered by article 16.2 which says that ANY irregularity in the way a decision making body of the UNP is constituted does not invalidate the decisions made by it. So even if half the committee was not appointed and unauthorized persons were present at the meeting, all decisions still remain valid!

Despite the odds stacked against him among the limited number of working committee members present, Sajith proceeded to suggest Ranjith Madduma Bandara’s name for the position of  national organizer. Upali Samaraweera, the Uva provincial council opposition leader seconded the motion.  Sajith suggested that they should go for an election. But RW kept insisting that the position should be given to Ravi K and no one else. Dayasiri Jayasekera was also of the opinion that for the sake of maintaining a democratic decision making process, an election should be held. At this stage Manjusri Arangala suggested that the position of national organizer should be given to a provincial councilor. In a situation where no election was going to take place, Sajith Premadasa walked out of the working committee meeting.  Ravi K thus became the national organizer by default.

What this means is that Sajith Premadasa is completely outnumbered in the six member advisory committee. RW and Ravi K will always be on one side. Tissa Attanayake as the general secretary is obliged to do the party leader’s bidding whether he likes it or not, or he has to leave his post.   Sajith then has to fall back on Jayawickrema Perera and Karu Jayasuriya even to have a division, but it is doubtful whether Karu J and Jayawickrema Perera would stand against RW. If they did, the party constitution would not be so shamefully manipulated to consolidate RW’s hold over the party.  In normal circumstances, this would call for litigation in courts. But the Sajith faction should think twice before embarking on ay such course of action because the government is solidly behind RW and they will leave no stone unturned to ensure that he remains where he is.

The Moon report

Even as we write this, protest marches are still taking place all over the country and strident statements are being made against the Ban Ki-moon report which for some reason the government calls the ‘Darusman report’. Darusman was only an employee of Ban and the report was written the way Ban and his backers wanted. What can arise from this report is a moot point. Three observations have to be made about this report.  

1. From the very beginning, there was no way that the government could have met this issue diplomatically. Ban had been given a certain task and there was nothing that the government could have done to obtain a different result. Once we obtained a copy of the report it did not take us at The Island more than a few minutes to decide that diplomacy was useless and that what was needed was exposure and publicity for what was clearly a witch hunt. A witch hunt should never be allowed to take place behind closed doors, because then the global public would be under the impression that Sri Lanka was being dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner.  

2.  The only way in which this process initiated by certain western powers could have been countered is by firstly exposing the witch hunt going on behind closed doors and secondly, rallying friendly countries to Sri Lanka’s side. This process used against Sri Lanka which flouted all the established rules of the UN if allowed to become a precedent, will be used against all other countries as well by a coterie of western powers which uses human rights as a cheap way of waging war – you bring an opponent down without firing a shot. It is not in the interest of the majority of nations to allow such a practice to succeed.  The subverting of the UN procedure also endangers the position of Russia and China which maintain a balance of power in the world through their veto power. What Ban Ki-moon tried to work around was exactly this veto power by using a different route to get at Sri Lanka.

3. Some quarters have been making predictions that the western powers may be able to get bodies like the security council and the human rights council to vote against Sri Lanka the same way they obtained votes against Libya and Syria. There is however a difference. When countries form friendships, that goes beyond the lifetimes of governments. Sri Lanka and Pakistan for example have had good relations during the time of J.R.Jayewardene as well as under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is a link between nations, not individuals.  Even after individual leaders fall, the link between the two countries has to continue and because of the need to have a permanent link. Friendly countries will not necessarily try to prop up a failing government in a given country. Since neither Libya nor Syria has a democratic system of governance, mass demonstrations and open rebellion by the people will be taken as a sign that change is in the air especially as governments changed in Tunisia and Egypt in the same wave of protests. 

The friends of those countries would like to have the same relationship with whoever comes into power next.  Such considerations no doubt explain why votes were obtained against both the Libyan and Syrian governments in the UN. However in Sri Lanka’s case, the government is rock solid and the people are overwhelmingly against the Ban Ki-moon report. So the factors that apply in the case of Libya and Syria will not apply here. Indeed the fact that the western powers have exceeded the mandate given by the UN security council and are trying to effect regime change in Libya  instead of simply imposing a no fly zone and an arms embargo on that country may in itself be Sri Lanka’s guarantee of security.

The western powers diddled Russia and China by getting a security council ruling against Libya and are now doing as they please under cover of that sanction despite the protests of Russia, China, India, Brazil and other countries. Even this investigation against Sri Lanka was carried out by Ban at the behest of the western powers in a manner designed to keep Russia and China out of the decision making process.  It is very unlikely that this naked attempt to establish a western hegemony over the international system will go unnoticed by Russia and China and other up and coming nations like India and Brazil.

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